Anti-apartheid poet Dr Keorapetse Kgositsile meeting the voice of the new generation Tebobo wa Maahlamela. Maahlamela is the author of the Sepedi gem titled Moswarataukamariri which will be reviewed in a few weeks' time.

At least ten titles of poetry came out of the Timbila Poetry Project alternative publishing initiative within the past two years alone. Aptly labeled Timbila Black Poets Series, started by editor Vonani wa ka Bila. The first title that was launched in 2005 was ex-Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier turned gender rights activist-poet Makhosazana Xaba's these hands. A no-holds barred audit of where the country is after all the years of liberation. Critically acclaimed with poems like The war America wants and Incase you're thinking of visiting the apartheid museum the book has a poem that was written during a dark chapter of South Africa's history, when a boy was killed and his death concealed by white rugby players. Xaba wrote, "when white boys played rugby/ in limpopo/ a young black boy, Tshepo Matloga, / was mistaken for a rugby ball…/"
Xaba's uncompromising take on the ills of a modern day South Africa peeled a fresh scab on the old debate about poetry being the social early warning system of a nation as opposed to it being a platform of mental post-orgasmic expression. The two look like Siamese twins but they can be separated.
Here is the point of departure, because the purpose of poetry should be to express as accurate as possible the pulse of any nation at any given time in history, either the disorientation of the poets, the celebration by the praise singer like Zolile Mkiva, Masoja Msiza and Napo Masheane or the emotional musing of romantics at heart like Wisani Nghalaluma and Myesha Jenkins.

(One of the critical voices to have emerged is that of these hands author Makhosazana Xaba - pictured)

Swedish poet Mauritz Tistelo once asked, "if poetry is about love, jelousy (sic), anger… all our feelings- can we with words and rhythm face our structures and smash them (and in longer distance the capitalistic system) so that we can grow like flowers with ten eyes and fourhundred (sic) hands. What is our interest- to catch and build beautiful jails or deliberate and go into an unknown space?"
As South Africa enters a second decade of democracy it only makes sense to check the pulse of the country's prophets. What are they writing about at the time when the buzzword is terrorism? Is their poetry taking over where protest poetry left off and celebrate the glory of the past twelve years? Is South African poetry colluding or in protest to what Brazilian poet Manuel Badeira once said, that "I don't want to hear any more about lyricism that has nothing to do with liberation"
There are a few who dare to find something daring to write about these days. One such poet is author of In The Name of Amandla Vonani Bila who another poet, Robert Berold said about him, "Bila's work forges poetry of public protest with a gritty kind of rural realism. To do this in our weird times of don't-rock-the-boat censorship takes commitment". Bila had a poem titled Mandela, Have you Wondered, in which he rattled, "have you ever wondered/ as you scratch your skin/ searching for your uniqueness - your own self/ that the triumphant crowd retired to ghettoes?"
But many of today's poets are obsessed with self-praise and being abstract since being abstract - something associated with being complicated which in art circles is considered a sign of high IQ. They need not abuse the bottle or pop pills to be considered genius but just to voice a lot of either right or leftwing rhetoric qualifies them.
One such is Mzwakhe Mbuli. It was Mbuli who conscientised many people to the hardships of apartheid when he echoed, "Africa will know no peace/ until we the south are free".
Post liberation he seems to have been awakened to a new reality. The South Africa he was taken away from in chains is not the same beloved country he found when he walked out to wild applause. It will be accurate to argue that the dough that Mbuli put into the oven did not produce the beautiful cake he saw on the recipe book.
The pre ’94 Mbuli wouldn’t have been indecisive on subjects that he now just romanticizes such as the Israeli-Palestinian, George Bush-Osama Bin Laden, Jacob Zuma and Scorpion issues. He would have identified a moral ground to occupy, but now.
But while some will argue that Mbuli's other rants against abortion rights are misplaced in a truly liberated South Africa, it should also be noted that he is reflective of the opinions of parts of society.
Go to Sowetan Mbongeni Khumalo's anthology Apocrypha and find a poem titled It Ain't Funny. "Really it ain't funny/ to see politicians/ wasting taxpayers' money…/ what do you think honey". He is one of the political misfits that the '94 experiment produced who are brave to write in Let Me Tell You, "let me tell you about my country../the parliament is a talk shop…/ my country is full of shit/ finish and klaar"
Arguably poets like Bila and Khumalo are not speaking for everyone, which then means that even liberation poets like Keorapetse Kgotsisile and Maishe Maponya were not speaking for every oppressed person. To relegate post liberation poets to an angry bunch will be to risk burying the contribution of pre-'94 protest poets under the same rubble. Is it worth it?
In his poem, how to reconnect electricity (found poem), New Coin editor Alan Finlay takes the revolutionary mantle and writes, "we went to the mayor's house to complain/ the mayor lives in Kensington and he's the mayor of Soweto/ so we went a long way to speak to the mayor". Finlay and a bunch of other poets have realised that the struggle did not end on April 27, 1994. It might have done so for a few people who now live in Kensington but for the young boy in Alexandra township ten years later is as bad as 1984.
The paradox of poetry's inertia can be best fathomed in its contemporary and alternative.
The former stream is a narrow peri-elite camp that only accommodates a few "poet laureates" and their close associates who get invited to exclusive functions and award ceremonies to recite commissioned praise poetry. While the alternative is populated by mostly outspoken leftists and liberals who don't find ceremony in having a four course meal with bureaucrats while people of Kanana and Alexandra still worry about where their next meal will come from.
How poets allowed money to compromise their content is itself a paradox. It's no longer about people's experiences but how much money one can make if they make an appearance at a political gathering and fall blind to the rot that has engulfed their own communities which is a reality they encounter everyday.
Buhle Khumalo writes lines that annoy. "Disgusting/ it stinks, shit stench/ what type of people are they; / people that shit and stay in it," Now, hers is straight talk, the one that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. Khumalo speaks for all the people of Orange Farm Extension II in her poem of the same title. It is a love it or hate it report. She's unashamedly a messenger of bad news, the one who does not deserve death. It's also indictive of society, " they whine and complain…/ we are deserted".
Jo'burg based poet-activist Righteous The Common Man’s poem had this piercing lines in They Have Landed, "the landless have landed/ where/ in the land of the landless/ except for those who have stacks/ of cash in their pockets". Common Man's poetry has always had an element of activism. This one was indicted of giving support to the Landless People's Movement and the occupation of a white farm as happened in Bredell some years ago. The slowness of land restitution seems to have provided The Common Man with a theme.
Sandile Ngidi wrote in his birthday tribute to the late poet Mazisi Kunene that, "Kunene is largely forgotten in South Africa- a country that too often reduces greatness to political heroes. Surely the toyi toyi was not the only response in creative self-expression when we were oppressed?" .That was before Kunene passed away and suddenly authorities started running scared and acting as if he mattered in his living years, which he did but was not recognised as such.
Maybe at the end of it all poet Tebogo wa Maahlamela's lines can offer a clue, "once in a while lesego/ let's write plastic poetry/ that melts when we near the fire/ let's praise corrupt leaders/ ululate when they shit/ on our country's dream/ let's shut our eye/ & see not what we see/ & call the truth politics/ & avoid writing politics/ poetry is mos nie politics". Badeira could have begged to differ.

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